Ash Wednesday (also known as dies cinerum, ‘day of ashes’) is a moveable feast day, observed exactly 46 days before Paschal (Easter) Sunday (40 days, not including Sundays). It is a day of repentance and marks the beginning of Lent (a period of fasting in preparation for Easter). Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ceremony where congregants come before the minister, who dips his thumb into ashes and marks their foreheads with the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance. As he does this, he reminds them, “Remember, O man, that thou art but dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” He may also utter the phrases, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” and “Repent, and hear the Good News.” The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.
The Holy Scriptures indicate dusting oneself with ashes (and wearing sackcloth) was a way for penitents to express mourning over sin. Job, for example, said to the LORD, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Other examples include laws for purification (Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13), the repentance of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-8), and the Lord Jesus’ warning to Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-21; Luke 10:13). Protestant/Evangelical groups which observe Ash Wednesday include: Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Methodists/Wesleyans, Nazarenes, the Church of God (Anderson), and some Baptists.
This year (2011), Ash Wednesday will be observed tomorrow (March 9).
The Gospel According to St. Luke – 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
In our postmodern world it seems like no one wants to speak about religion unless they are employing the term in the negative. Conversely, many like to speak about “spirituality.” Dr. Robert E. Webber addresses authentic Christian spirituality in The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Baker, 2006). Webber notes rightly that claiming to be “spiritual” in an individualistic, relativistic, narcissistic culture means practically nothing unless one identifies the story framing one’s spirituality. The late professor points out that the problem with most contemporary spirituality, including that within Christianity, is that it is separated from story. In The Divine Embrace, Webber asserts much of Christian spirituality is void of vitality because it is not established solidly within God’s story of redemption in Christ Jesus. In order to nurture and sustain a distinctly Christian spirituality, the Church must hold God’s story as the source and context in which spirituality is established and practiced. He summarizes it in the following way:
“It is the story of ‘how God created us to be in union with himself, how this unity was broken, and how Jesus, by God’s Spirit, brought us back into union with God by becoming one of us, by living to show us what true humanity looks like, by dying to destroy all that is death in the world, and by rising to lift us up into a new life in God.”
This distinct spirituality has been challenged over the centuries, particularly in the early centuries of Church history. Webber notes how the Church rose against each challenge with theological affirmations, namely the Ecumenical Creeds. His thoughts regarding the challenge to the doctrine of the Incarnation seem quite poignant, particularly during this time of year when the birth of the God-Man is at the forefront of our thinking. During the fourth century, the challenge to authentic Christian spirituality was led by Arius, who argued that God could not become incarnate in human flesh because spirit and matter cannot be united. This belief directly challenges the affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Arius taught that Jesus Christ is neither divine nor even “like God,” and that He is nothing more than an exalted creature. Though Arius affirmed God as Creator and the fall of creation, he refused to affirm the historic Christian spirituality which declares that “the Word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Webber writes:
“God, as man, reversed the curse that hangs over creation because of the rebellion of man. In Jesus Christ, God is made our sacrifice for sin; he is victor over the powers of evil; he begins again his original purposes in creating the world. In Jesus Christ all God’s purposes for humanity and creation are fulfilled. Therefore God, being made man, not only unites us to God but reveals how humans are to live in this world. In this way God both gifts us in spiritual union with himself (spirituality) and models how we are to live (the spiritual life). Ultimately the Athanasian view was affirmed because it was consistent with the biblical teaching that the incarnate Word is God. He is not like God, He is God. He who is the very essence of God is united with the very essence of humanity. . . . God’s story is about God, God of very God, the very essence of God uniting with the very essence of man to save us. The spiritual union we enjoy with God is not of our own making, it is initiated by God, accomplished by God, and given to us as a gift from God because God united our humanity with his in the relationship established in the incarnation. The implication for spirituality is clear: we earnestly contemplate (delight in) the mystery of God revealed in the incarnation and choose to participate in the purposes of God for humanity revealed originally to Adam, now fulfilled and modeled for us in Jesus.”
May you contemplate the incarnation, especially during this time of year, in a truly Christian manner.
Josiah Conder ( 1789 – 1859) was an active Nonconformist who worked in London, England, as a bookseller and engraver prior to being hired as the editor of the prestigious literary journal, The Eclectic Review. A Dissenter, he was also invited to edit The Patriot, a newspaper espousing Nonconformist and evangelical causes. Well known as an abolitionist, he also labored to repeal anti-Semitic laws in Britain. In addition to his political endeavors, Conder authored the 30-volume geographical tome, The Modern Traveller, compiled the best-selling Congregational Hymn Book, and penned numerous poems and hymns.
Conder’s hymns reflected his evangelical outlook and were adopted widely by congregations and chapels throughout the western world. By the early 20th century, more of Conder’s hymns were in use in Great Britain and the United States than those of any other Congregational author with the exception of either Isaac Watts or Philip Doddridge. One of his hymns, My Lord, I Did Not Choose You, is included in The Baptist Hymnal (1991). The lyrics from this hymn are presented to you for today’s edition of Theology on Thursday:
My Lord, I did not choose You, For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You, Had You not chosen me.
You took the sin that stained me, You cleansed me, made me new;
Of old You have ordained me, That I should live in You.
Unless Your grace had called me, And taught my opening mind,
The world would have enthralled me, To heavenly glories blind.
My heart knows none above You; For Your rich grace I thirst.
I know that if I love You, You must have loved me first.
Recently I recommend the work of Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament. Howard reflects upon worship at the advent of creation, and how the Fall decimated the reality of liturgy. He ably points out all of life is to be lived both before God and for God. Consider these words from Thomas the next time you hear the word “secular”:
In the harmony of Eden, everything that we did constituted an unceasing oblation of praise to the Most High. We needed no liturgy there—no setting aside of a special hour when we might turn away from the jumble of our activities and compose ourselves and offer to God the sacrifice of praise. There was nothing but liturgy. “The work of the people,” which is what the word liturgy means, included our eating and drinking and resting and loving as well as our work, which we experienced not as drudgery but as freedom since we were perfectly suited to it and perfectly empowered to carry it out. Like the angels who praise God continuously no matter what errands they are on, we lived in the fullness of ceaseless adoration to God. Our activity was our oblation. Simply being human—having been made in the image of God—constituted our dignity, and we bore this dignity before seraphim and archangels as a unique testimony to God’s glory.
This was torn apart at the Fall. We wrecked Creation by making a grab and saying, “This much of it shall be our own.” The fabric ripped. Now, instead of the sacred seamlessness in which every fiber of Creation was knit together in a pattern that blazoned the glory of God, we had a torn garment. The poor remnant we clutched in our fists was secular, in the most tragic sense of the word: that which is not acknowledged as God’s. It is a noncategory, of course, since nothing that exists belongs to anyone but God.
But evil is always an illusion. It insists on the lie that we can have something for ourselves. This is the sole principle at work in hell. Lucifer chose to believe it; or, since it is unimaginable that he actually could have believed it, then we may say that he chose to pretend it might be. Very well, says Truth, you may pretend this. But the pretense will be, literally, your undoing. It will unmake you. You will have opted for something that is not, namely, a lie. Hell is built of lies.
Thomas Howard, a highly acclaimed scholar and author, is a graduate of Wheaton College. He taught periodically at the school, but later earned his living as a professor of English at St. John’s Seminary in Boston, Massachusetts. His brother, David Howard, was a missionary, as was his well-known sister, Elisabeth Eliot. In his work, Evangelical Is Not Enough, Howard provides a narrative explaining his pilgrimage from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism. Describing evangelicalism with great sympathy while examining his own soul-searching reasons for embracing liturgical worship, he presents an apologetic for full-orbed worship.
While I believe Howard went much too far in abandoning the fundamental tenets of the Reformation by converting to Roman Catholicism, his work is not without merit. In his thinking, he didn’t depart from the Christian faith, but rather acquired an historical foundation which he felt was lacking in evangelicalism. He begins by investigating whether the term ‘evangelical’ is too diverse, and ably points out the commonalities shared by Roman Catholics and Protestants. In the concluding chapters, Howard appeals to utilizing liturgical worship as opposed to other forms of corporate worship. In summary, Howard believes Christians as a whole should overcome truncated worship by returning to three vital elements: episcopacy, communion as the focal point of corporate worship, and utilizing the Christian (liturgical) calendar.
Evangelicals may certainly benefit from reading this work, carefully considering the virtues of liturgical worship without surrendering essential tenets of the Protestant faith. In this, they may come to see how orthodox Anglicanism retained a full-orbed worship without compromising the evangelical faith. I leave you with a lengthy quote from Howard as he discusses reuniting the physical with the spiritual in worship:
“It is in the physical world that the intangible meets us. A kiss seals a courtship. The sexual act seals a marriage. A ring betokens a marriage. A diploma crowns years of schooling. A doctoral robe bespeaks intellectual achievement. A uniform and stripes announce a recruit’s training. A crown girds the brow that rules England. This symbolism bespeaks the sort of creature we are. To excise all of this from piety and worship is to suggest that the gospel beckons us away from our humanity into a disembodied realm. It is to turn the Incarnation into a mere doctrine.
The Incarnation took all that properly belongs to our humanity and delivered it back to us, redeemed. All of our inclinations and appetites and capacities and yearnings and proclivities are purified and gathered up and glorified by Christ. He did not come to thin out human life; He came to set it free. All the dancing and feasting and processing and singing and building and sculpting and baking and merrymaking that belong to us, and that were stolen away into the service of false gods, are returned to us in the gospel.
The worship of God, surely, should be the place where men, angels, and devils may see human flesh once more set free into all that it was created to be. To restrict that worship to sitting in pews and listening to words spoken is to narrow things down in a manner strange to the gospel. We are creatures who are made to bow, not just spiritually (angels can do that) but with kneebones and neck muscles. We are creatures who cry out to surge in great procession, ‘ad altare Dei,’ not just in our hearts (disembodied spirits can do that) but with our feet, singing great hymns with our tongues, our nostrils full of the smoke of incense.
Is it objected that this is too physical, too low down on the scale for the gospel? Noses indeed! If the objection carries the day, then we must jettison the stable and the manger, and the winepots at Cana, and the tired feet anointed with nard, and the splinters of the cross, not to say the womb of the mother who bore God when He came to us. Too physical? What do we celebrate in our worship? It is Buddhism and Platonism and Manichaeanism that tell us to disavow our flesh and expunge everything but thoughts. The gospel brings back all our faculties with a rush.
It was evangelicalism that taught me to love Christ and to defend the doctrine of the Incarnation. It was also evangelicalism that taught me that the locale of true religion is in a man’s heart and not on this mountain or that. Insofar as the simple forms of its worship stood out in protest against more sumptuousness it was truly Protestant.
But is protest enough? Can the heart of man feed on protest? Is it enough for our piety to say that because the idolator bows we will refuse to do so? On this accounting, prayer itself would have to go, since idolators pray. It is like saying that since gluttons eat too much food, we will eat none. What is needed is someone who will show what the right use of food looks like.
Is it enough to keep pressing home the truth that God dwells not in temples made with hands and that therefore, the church building is nothing? Where is the doctrine, then, of the Incarnation and of Redemption? It was not simply our souls that were rescued from hell: the whole Creation was redeemed, including space and time. Evangelicalism believes this and teaches it, as Saint Paul did in Romans 8, and as Saint John did in Revelation. If it is true, then may not the church building itself stand in our history and in our experience as itself a pledge and token, like a wedding ring, of this Redemption? In Christ, all of life is returned to its proper center. All human work is hallowed once more. But most people do not see this. Gas stations and hotels and restaurants and office buildings are not dedicated to God. But Christianity says that they should be. All work should be offered to God. Let us hallow at least this one place as a ‘sacred space,’ as we hallow the hour of worship as ‘sacred time.’
Only symbols, of course. But who will think lightly of his wedding ring and say it is nothing? Who will take a kiss lightly? It is ‘only’ a physical pledge of something deeper, more mysterious, and more substantial, namely, love. But in that small physical act the great mystery is somehow bespoken. Of course, God does not live in the church building, if by that we mean He needs it for shelter and for a place to lay His head. He lives in heaven, we say. He makes His dwelling in the paths of the sea. He has also told us that His dwelling is in the heart of man. No one can teach otherwise.
These things, which are true, must somehow be focused and brought to a point in a symbol for us mortals. In prayer we focus and bring to a point the petitions and praises that are always going up from our innermost beings. In the singing of hymns we articulate what is formless and semiconscious the rest of the time. In the hour of worship we focus and bring to a point what we should be true always of our hearts, namely, that God is adored there. Likewise, with the church building we set aside space and enclose it with walls and a roof, which shall be for us the token of what should be true of all spaces. Like the lamb that the ancient Jew brought from his flock, this space stands for all space as that lamb stood for the whole flock. The principle of focusing and bringing to a point did not disappear with the New Covenant. We mortals are still the same sort of creature. We cannot live with abstractions. We cannot nourish ourselves on generalities. The Incarnation attests to this.
The religion that attempts to drive a wedge between the whole realm of Faith and the actual textures of physical life is a religion that has perhaps not granted to the Incarnation the full extent of the mysteries that attach to it and flow from it, and that make our mortal life fruitful once more.”
The late Rev. Dr. Peter Toon was a graduate of King’s College, London, and Christ Church, Oxford, with a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil). Ordained a priest in the Church of England, he taught theology in both Great Britain and the United States, and was also a visiting professor and guest lecturer at a number of universities and seminaries in Europe, Australia, and Asia. He also served as a parish priest and as the president of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A. Dr. Toon authored hundreds of articles, edited two series of theological books for seminarians, and published over thirty books. His books, many of which may be found online, include The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765; God’s Statesman: Life and Work of John Owen; What We Believe, Good News of Regeneration and Justification; Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity; Genuine godliness & true piety: Worshipping God in faith, hope and love; Let Women Be Women: Equality, Ministry & Ordination; and, Knowing God Through the Liturgy. He resided in San Diego with his wife,, Vita, where he died on April 25th of last year. Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday is the third installment containing excerpts from Dr. Toon’s Knowing God Through the Liturgy.
If I come to common worship thinking that my relationship with God is that of an equal or near-equal partner with God then my attitude will reflect that mindset. If I come thinking that I am doing God some kind of favor or showing Him some special loyalty then my attitude will reflect this mindset. In contrast, if I come in gratitude and humility, conscious of my sins and unworthiness but overwhelmed by God’s mercy to me in Jesus Christ then my attitude will be very different.
In the Bible God enters into a relationship with believing sinners through what is called His covenant. We tend to think of s covenant as an agreement or contract between two parties who are of the same kind or who are equal in some way or another. . . . However, God’s covenant with man is not an agreement between equals and it is not a contract to which both sides agree. It is a totally one-sided affair because God alone establishes it and in doing se He sets out its terms and conditions. Then to remind us of our sinful, creaturely status and reduce our pride God tells us that we can only fulfill the conditions of the covenant as His junior covenant partners with His help. In fact without the help of the Holy Spirit we cannot even enter, let alone live rightly within, His covenant.
On first consideration this may seem to be dictatorial and tyrannical action by God. Yet, if we take to time to reflect upon such a covenant, we shall see that we are not talking of two equal partners but of the Lord God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, whom the angels serve and adore and who is infinitely above our being and our thought. He is God and we are mere creatures – sinful, spiritually and morally diseased creatures! Further, if we recognize that His covenant is truly a covenant of grace and is established for our good and eternal welfare that we may become His children and be restored to genuine knowing and loving of Him for all eternity, then we shall probably admit not only that He has every right to act as He has but that He has acted in mercy and compassion towards us by establishing His covenant of grace. For the simple fact is that we of ourselves cannot help ourselves in terms of lifting ourselves up to God in order to negotiate with Him. He must come towards us so that we can draw near to Him. . . .
God’s relationship with human beings is established and begins with His relationship of Creator to created. This can never change for, however ennobled man is, he can never be God. He will always be a finite and dependent and contingent being looking unto God in whom, as Paul declares, he lives and moves and has his being (Acts 17:28). . . .
With the Incarnation of the eternally begotten Son of God, the Word made flesh, God revealed the length and breadth, height and depth, of His mercy and of His covenant of grace. In and through Jesus Christ, God the Father established what Jesus Himself called “a new covenant” (see Matt. 26:26-30) – the fullness of His covenant of grace. In the atoning, reconciling work of Jesus, God made possible for people of all races and all times what He had offered and given to Israel in a limited space and time. By His sacrificial death and shed blood Jesus established the covenant of grace on new foundations. He became the Mediator through whom believing sinners come to God and call Him “Father”.
Jesus Christ is now the Way, the Truth and the Life and no-one comes to the Father except through Him. And those who come in faith to the Father in and through Him are not only adopted as the children of God but also in their souls God deigns to dwell as He promised through Jeremiah the prophet (31:31-34). . . . This is not merely knowing about God but it is the knowing through direct communion with God in personal prayer and trusting relationship.
Anyone who carefully reads the New Testament (the account of how the new covenant was established by God the Father through God the Son by God the Holy Spirit) must see and understand that the relationship with God through faith and by the agency of the Holy Spirit is genuinely personal and dynamic. It is a relationship which operates in both directions with the human movement to God through Jesus Christ being always dependent upon His primary movement through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit to His children. Within this covenant God calls His people into ever deepening fellowship, union and communion with Himself for He delights to be known by His redeemed creatures. Has He not made them in order that they might enjoy and know Him forever?
This past week I picked up Fernando Ortega’s, The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns and Sacred Songs. On the back CD cover, the musician writes:
There’s too little time for reflection in my life these days – too little meditation and quiet. As everything about our culture gets louder and more “in-your-face”, my ability to concentrate on spiritual things feels thin and compromised. These songs were written in response to that dilemma.
My starting point was the morning mass from The Book of Common Prayer – a pronouncement of peace, prayers of contrition, the bending of the knee. These things bring me to a right perspective for worship, from there, the record turns to the Holy Trinity – the faithfulness of the Father, the wooing of the Holy Spirit, the sacrifice and supremacy of Christ. I tried to lay these songs out with a liturgical sense though in the form of a personal devotion, or “quiet time”.
My greatest reward in putting this record together has been in finding rich, new beauty in simple Bible passages I have known all my life.
- Fernando Ortega
If you desire to listen to truly “spiritual songs,” I commend this CD to you.
The late Rev. Dr. Peter Toon was a graduate of King’s College, London, and Christ Church, Oxford, with a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil). Ordained a priest in the Church of England, he taught theology in both Great Britain and the United States, and was also a visiting professor and guest lecturer at a number of universities and seminaries in Europe, Australia, and Asia. He also served as a parish priest and as the president of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A. Dr. Toon authored hundreds of articles, edited two series of theological books for seminarians, and published over thirty books. His books, many of which may be found online, include The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765; God’s Statesman: Life and Work of John Owen; What We Believe, Good News of Regeneration and Justification; Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity; Genuine godliness & true piety: Worshipping God in faith, hope and love; Let Women Be Women: Equality, Ministry & Ordination; and, Knowing God Through the Liturgy. He resided in San Diego with his wife,, Vita, where he died on April 25th of last year.
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday, along with the subsequent three editions, include excerpts from Dr. Toon’s work, Knowing God Through the Liturgy. One does not have to be an Anglican, or even a liturgical Evangelical, in order to appreciate a great deal of what Toon wrote in this work. He combined a passion for worshiping God in spirit and in truth with keen theological insight. May the Lord bless you as you read excerpts from the first two chapters today.
…There is an equating of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) with the Holy Spirit by much of the leadership of the Church. The nature of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, is presented in Scripture for our study and meditation in such places as John 14-16 and Romans 8. He is the Spirit of holiness and wholeness, of regeneration and renewal, of goodness and faithfulness, and He leads us in the way of Christ. What He guides disciples of Jesus to be and to do stands in contrast and opposition to the secular spirit of the world, the raw desires of the flesh and the temptations of the devil. The Holy Spirit is on no account to be confused with the spirit of the age or the modern spirit – however this contemporary spirit is defined. I have been profoundly disturbed to hear of such things as the right of human beings to name God as they choose, and the practice of homosexuality and lesbianism, described as examples of the way the Holy Spirit is showing us new values and truths today. Is this not coming near to that sin our Lord said was unforgivable – sin against the Holy Spirit? (See Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10.) . . . .
…To say ‘we believe…’ is not the same thing as saying ‘I believe’. We are there together at Holy Communion as the Body of Christ and each believer who is present is a member of that Body: thus each of us has to respond to the God who has revealed and given Himself to us: therefore, the right response is ‘Lord, I believe!’ Though the members of the Council of Nicea composed the Creed and said together against heretics, ‘We [as a body standing together] believe’ they each confessed the same faith in the Eucharist in personal terms, ‘I believe’ (as the ancient Liturgies of St Basil and St Chrysostom show). . . .
The seeking after God and the knowledge of Him is the most deeply fulfilling journey upon which we can embark. We need a sure road to travel on, an accurate map to use and a faithful guide to direct us in our search for the living God and fellowship with Him. I believe that wise people will take that road, use that map and employ that guide which have proved themselves over the centuries to achieve what they promise. Modern forms of transport may be better than older ones: modern houses may be warmer than older ones; but, knowing God is not like using transport or buying houses. In this human quest we need to pay attention to the accumulated wisdom and tested practice of the centuries: this is more likely to lead us where we want to go than are modern insights and untested ways.
It was my privilege to meet the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon several years ago, and to hear him teach on several occasions on matters related to the Christian faith. Born in Yorkshire, England, October 25, 1939, he was a graduate of King’s College, London, and Christ Church, Oxford, with a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford (D.Phil.). Ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1973, he taught theology in both the United Kingdom and the United States, and was also a visiting professor and guest lecturer at a variety of seminaries and universities in Asia, Europe, and Australia. Dr. Toon was a recent past-President of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A., prior to his death on April 25, 2009. The author of several books, Dr. Toon penned The Anglican Way: Evangelical and Catholic, published by Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc., in 1983. Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday is an excerpt from this work, considering what it means to be Catholic and Reformed (from the perspective of an Anglican).
To affirm Catholicity means that we cannot be too selective in the way in which we look back to evaluate the long experience of the Church of God. A fault of most Protestant denominations has been, and remains, that of working from a limited perspective, choosing this and rejecting that. We are to accept the broad and sustained themes of Catholicity and to reject deviant and exaggerated developments and expressions.
When the reformers of the Church of England in the mid-sixteenth century attempted ‘to wash the dirty face’ of the national Church, they recognized and made a part of the Church’s reformed existence the following catholic emphases.
1. The priority and authority of the Scriptures as the source of our knowledge of God.
2. The doctrinal guidance of the Catholic Creeds-Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian (Quicunque Vult).
3. The truth that salvation is, in the final analysis, the gift of God and by grace alone.
4. The use of Liturgy, which is faithful to Scripture and embodies the experience of the Church in worship over the centuries.
5. The historic episcopate or the order of bishops as a sign of the unity of the one Church of God. Unlike Scottish and Continental reformers, who ditched episcopacy because they saw it as too involved in the corruption which they knew must be removed, the English reformers insisted on the retention of the historic order of bishops.
6. The threefold ordained ministry of bishop, presbyter (= priest) and deacon, as that ministry which God has led the Church to adopt from primitive times.
7. The two Gospel sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as instituted by Christ for regular use in the Church.
8. The unity of the ministry of the Word and Sacrament in the service of Holy Communion.
9. The need for regular preaching and teaching from the Scriptures.
10. The recognition that the visible unity of the Church on earth is God’s will.
11. The need for a regularly reviewed canon law and moral theology.
12. The priesthood of the whole Church as a worshipping and praying society.
The approach, which these emphases reflect, was called ‘reformed catholicity’.
Because of the particular historical circumstances of the sixteenth century, the affirmation of reformed Catholicity meant the denial of the excessive claims of the Papacy and the repudiation of certain medieval doctrines – in particular, the medieval dogma of transubstantiation (that the whole bread becomes the true body of Christ and that the whole wine becomes the true blood of Christ). A careful study of the formularies of the Church of England will reveal how reformed Catholicity was expressed. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion state the faithfulness of the Church of England to Scripture and true Catholic tradition. The Book of Homilies illustrates in sermon form what reformed Catholicity means for people in the pews. The Book of Common Prayer provides services of worship which teach Scriptural doctrines through revised, traditional forms, and the Ordinal contains services for the consecration of a bishop, the ordination of a priest and the making of a deacon.
The Catholicity claimed by the Church of England (and therefore by the Anglican Communion) is rightly called a ‘reformed Catholicity’ in contrast to what may be called a late medieval corrupted Catholicity. It was reformed because its roots were deep in the Scriptures and the experience of the Church of the first five centuries. By 1559, the year of the Elizabeth Settlement, the Church of England was not a new Church (whose origins lay in the legislation of Henry VIII), but a renewed, revitalized, reformed Church, wholly committed to its position in the continuing historical existence of the Church of God in England (whose origins reached back to the ancient Celtic Church). Of course, it was not a perfect Church; it was, however, moving in the right direction.
Because the Church of England was attempting to be gospel-centered, it is also appropriate to call the Church of England a Protestant Church (and so to call the American Church the ‘Protestant Episcopal Church’). This is because the meaning of ‘Protestant’ in England from 1530 until at least 1640 included the designation of catholic. ‘Protestant’ comes from the ‘Protestation’ drawn up by a minority at the Second Diet of Spires (1529) in Germany. Part of this statement is as follows: ‘We are determined by God’s grace and aid to abide by God’s Word alone, the Holy Gospel contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments. This Word alone should be preached, and nothing that is contrary to it. It is the only Truth. It is the sure rule of all Christian doctrine and conduct. It can never fail us or deceive us. Whosoever builds and abides on this foundation shall stand against all the gates of hell, while all merely human additions and vanities set up against it must fall before the presence of God.’ The Protestation (from to protest = to make a solemn declaration) is a solemn declaration of faithfulness to the Gospel, written in Scripture, as the final court of appeal in the Church of God. Only in a secondary sense did Protestant mean a protest against the errors supported and encouraged by the Papacy. In essence, Protestantism is an appeal to the Lord Jesus, to Scripture, and to the early, patristic Church, against all later degeneration, error and apostasy. In this sense the Anglican Communion must be Protestant. Regrettably, however, the negative meaning of Protestant appears to have triumphed in the common understanding, and so today the word ‘Protestant’ is seen as one who is against Roman Catholicism. Therefore, if as Anglicans we are going to use the word ‘Protestant’, let us use it as meaning ‘committed to genuine Catholicity’.
In Anglicanism we have long held that to maintain a genuine Catholicity (and to be truly Protestant) we need to be guided by Scripture, tradition and reason (in that order). The historical, continuing Church is the guardian and translator of the sacred Scriptures, but since the latter are the record of God’s revelation to mankind, they stand always as the judge and guide of the Church as she is led by the Spirit of her exalted Lord. So the Bible must be the final authority in matters of faith and conduct. Yet this holy book has to be interpreted, understood and used in the life of the Church. It is here that tradition helps for it brings to us the experience of the catholic Church over the centuries (and before and after the Reformation). Tradition is that wealth of experience contained in written and unwritten sources which are passed on from generation to generation. It includes the way in which the Bible has been understood and put into practice in all kinds of activity and in various written forms (e.g. creeds, liturgies, canon law, theology and devotional books).
The place of reason (as it is illuminated by the Holy Spirit) is to look at Scripture in the light of the ethos and content of the catholic tradition and with questions arising from a particular society and culture. Thus decisions of a theological, moral, spiritual, political and economic nature are made on this solid basis. The human mind and conscience is fully informed before action is taken.
The stream of tradition which is ours to receive is deeper and longer than that which was received by the reformers of the Church of England in the sixteenth century. We have the experience of a divided Christendom, and its various minor streams, to receive and examine. Thus, for example, we are made aware of such matters as the possibilities of freedom in worship, of the ministry of the whole laity of God, of the world mission of the Church, and of our social calling as Christians in the modern world. Further, the questions raised by our increasingly technologically-based society become more difficult, not only in the field of medicine but in most areas of human development and growth.
Facing our complex society with Christian eyes, it would be wrong to abandon the classic approach of looking to Scripture with the help of tradition in the light of reason. Such a procedure preserves us from excessive individualism and where it does not easily lead to an answer to a modern, urgent question, at least it sets a good context for a Christian approach to an answer. Sometimes it will be painful to make decisions and sometimes wrong answers will be found. An example of a problematic question is that of whether a woman should be free to be ordained priest and consecrated bishop. Here we have the situation of tradition speaking with a strong voice in the negative, and reason finding it difficult to find any solid reasons why a woman should not be a candidate for, or called to, such an office in the Church of God. Regrettably the Anglican Communion has not moved as one body in answering this question and thus, when we do achieve a consensus of what is the will of Christ, there will be need for reconciliation within the Church.
Because Anglicanism has followed the appeal to Scripture, tradition and reason, it has been committed also to the creative concept and practice of comprehensiveness. Rightly understood, comprehensiveness is not the acceptance of a ragbag of assorted views and practices. It is not the expression of the principle that theological relativism is inescapable or even a good thing – i.e. that each of us does their own thing because there is not one truth to which we all ought to be committed.
Comprehensiveness is unity in fundamentals with the recognition in secondary matters, especially rites and ceremonies, that there can be differences of opinion and interpretation. The fundamentals are those found in the catholic Creeds and those presupposed in the Liturgy. So people belonging to different schools of Anglican interpretation (e.g. Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and Latitudinarian) have been agreed on basics and in the use of a common form of Liturgy. Low Church, High Church and Broad Church have existed alongside each other and often overlapped with each other.
Recently the honored principle of comprehensiveness has been severely threatened by the appearance of radical theologians who provide interpretations of Christianity totally out of harmony with earlier interpretations. The old Latitudinarians did not deny the fundamentals of Trinitarian Faith, but claimed the right to explore areas around the center or essence of that Faith, and also to study the implications of the Faith with respect to new forms of learning. With the modern ‘liberals’ (better ‘radicals’) we have the arrival of people who deny the fundamentals. Not only is there the enthusiastic rejection by them of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the true deity of our Lord, but there is also a rejection of the authority of the primary and unique witness to Jesus provided in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. They propose what they think are not merely novel but actually superior ways of thinking of Jesus and his place in history and in the search for salvation. They complain that recent liturgical revision within the Anglican Communion has not taken account of ‘modern’ theology. We reply that the Liturgy is based on a doctrinal foundation that has been tested and tried over the centuries and is as applicable today as it was yesterday.
Let us be frank. There is no room within the true comprehensiveness of Anglicanism for people to act as our theologians, teachers and priests who continue to deny the fundamentals of the Faith as they have been received, believed, taught and confessed over the centuries. There can be and should be new ways of expressing old truths; but this is a very different activity to the actual denial of old truths and the proposing of new ones. The Incarnation is in no sense a myth and if we lose our belief that the eternal Son of God genuinely assumed our human nature and flesh, then we also lose the authentic Christian Faith. And if God incarnate disappears, so also does true salvation. We need our bishops to lead us in joyful commitment to the genuine Faith. Our liturgies, old and new, do preserve and commend the genuine article! For this we thank God.
One beneficial result of the arrival of the radicals has been the closer cooperation of members of the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic schools of thought. They (together with others of ‘no school’) have united in defence of the received fundamentals which are derived from divine Revelation. This gives some impetus to the adoption of the vision that Anglicanism becomes simultaneously wholly committed to the Evangel and to Catholicity. It also provides some hope that our radical friends will eventually submit to the authentic Faith and not use the Church as the society and place in which to offer their latest and ‘brightest’ thoughts. We do not want to drive them from worship and sharing in the life of the people of God. We want them to submit with us to the Lord Jesus and to serve him together. But, until they return to belief in the fundamentals, we cannot see how they can be allowed to preach in our pulpits and to lecture to ordinands in our seminaries.
True Catholicity or reformed Catholicity requires genuine unity without uniformity. Comprehensiveness refers to that unity functioning without uniformity. Since most Anglican Churches now have a variety of liturgies, we are already gaining experience in terms of worship of what unity without uniformity can mean. When we become wholly evangelical and wholly catholic we shall understand it even better!
You may call me critical, say I’m unconcerned about being “relevant” in order to reach the lost or such, but here are a few reasons I find it more and more difficult each day to remain within the “free church tradition”:
1) Whiskey Baptists
Does the singing of this early 90s Country & Western song cause one to think of Christ and His redeeming love? Do large foam hats convey the holiness and majesty of God? Doesn’t this song, employed during a worship service, seem to contradict what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians?:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Cor. 5:9-11)
2) Clown Communion
This gives a whole new meaning to the term “Clown Ministry.” The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
3) Motor “cross”
Notice references to “stage” and “set.” Sounds like a theater rather than a sanctuary, doesn’t it? Wonder how many individuals, viewing this, would find their hearts exclaiming with the cherubim and the prophet Isaiah:
…I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
4) Spiritual Gifts, Temper Tantrums and Wedgies
Forget the drama of redemption, when you can have second-rate skits about spiritual gifts, filled with temper tantrums and “wedgies.”
Guess I’m getting old, but it seems to me like these are examples of worship in spirit and in truth:
It seems to me that worship should reflect that which takes place before the Throne in Heaven, that which is described by the Apostle John in Revelation 4:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Today, January 6, is the Christian feast day known as Epiphany. Epiphany, from the Greek ἐπιφάνεια, means “appearance” or “manifestation”. The purpose of the feast is to celebrate the revelation of the Incarnation – God taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The observance of Epiphany originated in the East, with the commemoration of the Lord’s birth, the Magi’s visit, the Lord’s childhood, His baptism in the Jordan River, and His first miracle at Cana. It was known in the earliest centuries as the feast of the Manifestation, the Theophany, and the Feast of Light. Second only to Easter in importance, Epiphany was observed in the East as early as the second or third century. The earliest reference to Epiphany is a remark by Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215), who noted in Stromateis (I, xxi, 45):
“And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day… The followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month of Tubi; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month [Jan. 6 and 10].”
Today, Christians in the West generally commemorate the visitation of the Magi to worship the Lord, understood as the time He was manifested to the Gentiles. There has been a traditional emphasis in the West upon the “Revelation to the Gentiles,” mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (2:32). In Scripture, Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Magi, representing the Gentiles as a whole, worshiped the Lord Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great, the King of Judea who sought to put Him to death. Early Church leaders believed this manifestation implied a revelation to the Jews as well as the Gentiles. John Chrysostom noted of this event, “The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all.” Before A.D. 354, the Western Church separated the celebration of the Nativity as the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25. It reserved January 6 as a commemoration of the manifestation of the Christ, particularly to the Magi (along with his baptism and the miracle at Cana). The West has historically observed a twelve-day festival, beginning on Christmas Day and concluding on January 5, known as Christmastide (the Twelve Days of Christmas). Eventually, the observance of Christmas Day in the West overshadowed Ephipany (the “old Christmas”).
Christians in the East generally commemorate the baptism of Christ Jesus in the Jordan River, understood as His manifestation to the world as the Son of God. Eastern Christians also call this Theophany. Epiphany became the day for receiving new members through baptism. These members were called illuminandi – the ones enlightened by Christ, the Light of the world. In a sermon delivered on December 25, 380, Gregory of Nazianzus referred to Epiphany as the Theophany. He declared it as a day commemorating “the holy nativity of Christ,” and told his hearers they would soon celebrate the baptism of the Lord Jesus. On January 6 and 7, 381, he preached two more sermons. In both he declared the celebration of Christ’s birth and the visitation of the Magi had already occurred, and the baptism of Jesus would now be celebrated. The East emphasizes the revelation of Jesus as the Christ and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity at the time of His baptism because this event marked one of only two occasions when all three Persons of the Holy Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity. God the Father spoke through the clouds, God the Son was baptized in the Jordan, and God the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon Him in the form of a dove (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor). Those in the East consider the Lord’s baptism the first step towards the crucifixion (Good Friday).
Most modern American evangelical congregations substitute grape juice for wine during communion, a novel practice in the history of the Church. This practice can be traced to the 19th century Temperance movement. During the early part of that century the abuse of alcohol was widespread in the United States. Methodists were the first to begin a notable protest against this abuse, and the protest gained momentum under the leadership of Charles G. Finney. Whereas the Church has taught since its inception that drunkenness and alcohol abuse are sinful, those associated with the Temperance movement brought an innovation into the teaching of the Church – that alcohol itself is evil and, therefore, any use of it is sinful.
The Temperance movement met with great political success. In 1826, the American Temperance Society was formed, consisting largely of clergy. Thirteen states prohibited the sale of alcohol by the 1850s. Following the War Between the States, the national Prohibition Party was formed in 1869 and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was established in 1873. The WCTU was known for singing tunes such as, “Lips that Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine.” They distributed pamphlets teaching that alcoholic beverages were spawned by satan himself. Soon the National Anti-Saloon League was established, and by 1900 thirty states permitted local governments to determine whether or not the manufacturing and sale of alcohol was permissible within their respective jurisdictions. By 1916, nineteen states prohibited the use of alcoholic beverages whatsoever. Three years later, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, forbidding “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors therein, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.” Liberals supported prohibition as an application of the social gospel while many conservatives viewed it as progress for in the fight against “sin.”
A great deal of conflict was created within local congregations during this period. Congregations which used wine in communion were assaulted by those insisting such a practice was “unbiblical.” A Methodist dentist, Thomas Welch, utilized Louis Pasteur’s pasteurization process to grape juice to prevent fermentation. He began to serve juice in his home congregation where he served as a communion steward, although his efforts were not greatly appreciated there. Welch’s son, Charles, marketed pasteurized grape juice to temperance-minded Christians as authentic New Testament “wine.” In 1864, the General Conference of Methodists recommended “that in all cases the pure juice of the grape be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” Though Methodists recognized the “historic and ecumenical practice has been the use of wine,” they believed the use of unfermented grape juice supported “the church’s witness of abstinence.”
In 1925, many Southern Baptists apparently still used wine for communion. The Baptist Faith & Message (1925) declared members of the church “by the use of bread and wine, commemorate the dying love of Christ.” American culture, dominated by the Temperance movement, held sway in the early 1960s and so the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message was altered. It stated members of the church “through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.” Certainly nothing in Scripture (or scientific data) indicates the absence of alcohol in any form of wine. Theologians, with the exception of prohibitionists, agree that wine, new wine, old wine, mixed wine, and the fruit of the vine all refer to fermented grape juice – wine.
One wonders how much individuals have been robbed of the fullness of worship by substituting wine with unfermented grape juice during communion. When Passover was instituted by God, the contents of the meal were prescribed by the Lord Himself – bitter herbs, unleavened bread, lamb, and wine. Each carried highly symbolic significance. Continuity existed between the physical elements and the spiritual realities. The Lord wanted the children of Israel to remember the bitterness of their bondage in Egypt and the sweetness of their redemption in the Exodus. Wine was an element reminding them that their hearts should be glad (Psalm 104:15). It was also utilized positively in many of the feasts and celebrations of Israel. It was during the observance of the Passover meal that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted communion, employing unleavened bread and wine in particular. Wine has a bittersweet taste and burns when ingested. What an appropriate element to utilize in worship, communicating to our sense of taste the bitterness of our sin and the sweetness of redemption. During the Lord’s Supper we remember the Lord’s death in a somber fashion, yet joyfully anticipate His return and the marriage supper which shall follow. During that great feast, Christians from across the globe and from every age will experience incomparable joy. Wine – real wine – reminds us of that glorious truth.
For contemporary American evangelicals, Anglican liturgy often appears alien and counter-cultural at best and “Popish” at worst. The truth is, Anglican liturgy is counter-cultural to our individualistic society which focuses on “me-now.” Many attending worship services ask themselves, “What do I get out of this?” Anglican liturgy is about transformation. Individuals gather as a corporate body to be transformed, bread and wine are transformed into the presence of Christ Jesus, the world is transformed as God works through His people. Anglican liturgy can often feel like aerobic exercise to the people of God: Sit. Stand. Kneel. Bow. Turn. Cross. Walk. Smell. Taste. Touch.
This past Sunday I led Chapel congregants in the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. Those gathered each confessed, “I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints.” I’m not sure how many congregations across the country did the same, but I’m doubtful that it was many. Contemporary Americans, including those who call themselves Christians, are generally cynical when it comes to institutions – an outlook which has impacted our comprehension of the Church in a negative manner. All too often people make statements about liking Christ but not Christians, or wanting a relationship with God apart from organized religion.
To be brutally honest, the visible church in North America appears worldly and weak. Televangelists, with their abhorrent anthropocentric theology and perverse avarice, are often perceived erroneously as spokespersons for the church at large. Winning grins and shallow slogan provide comfort to those whose faith is too superficial to endure solid exposition regarding sanctification and suffering. Popular works of fiction are hailed as “the next best thing to Scripture” despite their unscriptural content. Novelists, whether their topic is demonology, eschatology, or even God Himself, are considered authorities in the realm of theology while systematic theologians are often denounced as focusing too much upon “man-made systems.” Democratic individualism, which has much to do with the culture and little or nothing to do with Scripture, permeates everything from altar calls to business meetings. It is no wonder many people are so discouraged with the congregational life they witness, since many congregations are focused upon entertaining the masses rather than carrying out the tasks delineated within Holy Writ. As Spurgeon put it, they are “amusing the goats rather than feeding the sheep.”
Nonetheless, the Christian must never forget that the Church is the family of God, the body and bride of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Revelation 19:7), and the residence of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:19-21). Those within her walls who denounce and belittle her do so at their own peril, for they speak against her Groom (Acts 9:4). At this time, the visible church is mixed with wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and Christ is sanctifying His bride so that she will be without blemish and without spot (Ephesians 5:25-27). That reality should make us pause, careful to speak about the Church and her present condition. Contemplate the Church with me and consider these words from the Early Church Fathers:
“As long as she is a stranger in the world, the city of God has in her communion, and bound to her by the sacraments, some who shall not eternally dwell in the lot of the saints. Of these, some are not now recognized; others declare themselves, and do not hesitate to make common cause with our enemies in murmuring against God, whose sacramental badge they wear. These men you may today see thronging the churches with us, tomorrow crowding the theatres with the godless.”
“The spouse of Christ, on whose account He poured out His own blood, as her marriage portion, that He might redeem her.”
“He cannot posses the robe of Christ who rends and divides the Church of Christ.”
“Make no mistake about it. If anyone is not inside the sanctuary, he lacks God’s bread.”
“The unity of the Church is proved by the mutuality of the greetings of peace, by the use of the name ‘brother,’ and by mutual hospitality.”
“If anyone outside the ark of Noah was able to escape, then perhaps someone outside the pale of the Church may escape.”
“Let us love our Lord God, let us love His Church; Him as a Father, her as a Mother.”
“He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”
“…You would receive unity which you do not have, you would receive peace which you do not have. But if you regard these things as nothing, then fight, you deserter, fight against your Commander who says, ‘He that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.’ Fight, then, against His apostle, yes, even against Him who speaks through him when he says, ‘Supporting one another in charity, careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’”
The best book I’ve ever read on missiology (the theology of missions), bar none, is John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions. Dr. Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. In Let the Nations Be Glad!, Dr. Piper draws on key biblical texts and the lives of missionary heroes to demonstrate that worship is the ultimate goal of the Church, and that true worship fuels the Great Commission. He also addresses subjects interrelated to missions, such as the role of prayer, universalism (the belief that all will ultimately be saved), and annihilationism (the belief that Hell is not eternal). I recommend the work highly, and hope today’s edition of Theology on Thursday will whet your appetite. Dr. Piper writes in the first chapter, “The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Worship”:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. . . . The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Psalm 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. . . . Missions begins and ends in worship. If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served and God will not be duly honored. . . . Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. . . .
God is central and supreme in his own affections. There are no rivals for the supremacy of God’s glory in his own heart. God is not an idolater. He does not disobey the first and great commandment. With all his heart and soul and strength and mind he delights in the glory of his manifold perfections. . . .
God is calling us above all else to be the kind of people whose theme and passion is the supremacy of God in all of life. No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.
God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of his name among the nations. Therefore let us bring our affections into line with his, and, for the sake of his name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts, and join his global purpose.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. . . . But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
– Ephesians 4:29, 5:3-4
An in-depth New York Times feature on Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll entitled, “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?”, has generated a debate regarding profanity from the pulpit. Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church, focused on his Calvinistic theology, but also discussed his sermon topics and casual dress. Driscoll is known as the “cussing pastor,” as he is called by his friend, Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz.
In the December 2006 issue of Pulpit, pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, also a Calvinist, took Driscoll to task over his use of sexually explicit language and “purely gratuitous humor” from the pulpit. MacArthur contends correctly that such language degrades the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry. Driscoll professed repentance at one point, apologizing for being known as one with “good theology, a bad temper, and a foul mouth.” He declared he didn’t want to be known for the bad temper and foul mouth.
Since then, Driscoll has been targeted for his series on explicit “advice” regarding sexuality among Christians. There is no doubt that too many pulpits fall silent on this important issue, yet such a topic must surely be discussed with godly propriety. Ingrid Schlueter has noted rightly in response to Driscoll’s language, “For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it.”
Pastors should certainly address the issue, but they must address it in an appropriate manner. The pulpit, let alone the ordinary conversations among Christians, must reflect righteousness. Pastors are called upon to “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). I endorse Driscoll’s theology, but not his foul mouth or explicit references.
During each of my pastorates I held Q & A sessions once per month, usually on a Sunday or Wednesday evening. I encouraged church members to ask any questions they had related to biblical, theological or historical matters. These sessions proved to be beneficial to the members for their spiritual growth. Some individuals were helped because their individual questions were answered, and others were helped by listening to the answers given to the questions raised by others. For an extended time, I also answered questions as an online “expert” related to religious questions. One of the benefits of online answers is that anyone may view what is posted. Over the years, I’ve replied to questions ranging from, “Will my dog be in heaven?” to “Are Baptists Protestant?”
Wanting this blog to serve as a useful tool for the sake of Christ Jesus, I’ve decided to bring the Q & A format here. Here are the “qualifications” I bring to the table:
Ordained to the Gospel Ministry
Licensed to the Gospel Ministry
PhD in Theology
Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages
Masterof Arts in Theology
Bachelor of Arts in Religion
Associate of Arts in Religion
- Over 20 years in ministry
If you would like to pose a question, please do so via the “comment” option. It is likely that your question, along with the corresponding answer, may end up as a post on 2 Worlds Collide.
“Theology on Thursday” is the only weekly edition featured on this blog. There’s not a regular “Anti-Theology” bit, just the one post regarding the antics of Todd Bentley. But, this morning, while doing my regular check-in over at my buddy Gunny’s blog, Semper Reformanda, I saw a natural follow-up to the “Anti-Theology” post (which may, in fact, become a regular feature here… “Anti-Theology: Why I Sometimes Hate the Free Church Tradition”). For those of you old enough to remember the early-mid 80s, you may gasp, but, then again, if you’ve been around the free church tradition long enough, this probably won’t surprise you. Gunny quips in his introduction of this clip, “Now I know the true reason my church has not begun growing as fast some others: We’re not spinning anything, which we should be if Jesus spins us right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby. We need a ‘Holy Ghost Ho-Down’ apparently to start a love train.’”
For those of you too young to remember the 80s, here’s the original:
Here are clear reminders that the world does not belong in the Church. Worship within the Church is a sacred matter. Spinning socks and singing petty pop songs does not constitute worship.
Welcome to this week’s edition of Theology on Thursday. Today’s edition could be sub-titled, “The Necessity of Biblical Worship,” or even perhaps, “Why I Sometimes Hate the Free Church Tradition.” The Associated Press released a story this past week about a motorcycle crash this past Sunday morning…during a worship service. The senior pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Kokomo, Indiana, Jeff Harlow, brought out a motorcycle during the second Sunday church service to demonstrate the concept of unity. His wrist was broken when he lost control of the bike as he drove off a 5′ platform into the first row of seats, which were vacant. The pastor underwent surgery for the wrist on Monday. His wife, Becky Harlow, stated, “Jeff has already laughed a lot, so he’s okay. I think his pride was bruised.” Explaining why he decided to employ the motorcycle during the service, Mrs. Harlow said, “He had this idea that he would bring this bike out onstage and show people how the rider would become one with the bike. He was going to just sit on it and drive it out. He was just walking the dirt bike out onstage and somehow it got away from him. It was not intended.” Harlow performed the demonstration at earlier services Saturday night and Sunday morning without incident.
Contrast this with Dr. John Frame’s words found within his excellent text, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship. Dr. Frame writes:
Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord. . . . worship is active. It is something we do, a verb (as well as a noun). . . . worship is far different from entertainment. In worship we are not to be passive, but to participate. . . . worship is honoring someone superior to ourselves. It is therefore not pleasing ourselves, but pleasing someone else. Immediately the question How can worship be made better? has a focus: better not primarily for ourselves, but better for the one we seek to honor. It may be that worship that is better for him will also be better for us. But our first concern must be to please him; any benefits for us will be secondary. . . .
[Worship] is not primarily for ourselves, but for the one we seek to honor. We worship for his pleasure foremost and find our greatest pleasure in pleasing him. Worship must therefore always be God-centered and Christ-centered. It must be focused on the covenant Lord. . . .
In worship, we adore God’s covenantal control, his sovereign rule over creation. The praises of God’s people in Scripture are typically praises of his “mighty acts” in creation, providence, and redemption (see, for example, Ex. 15:1-18; Ps. 104; Zeph. 3:17; Rev. 15:3-4). To worship God is also to bow before his absolute, ultimate authority. We adore not only his power, but also his holy word. Psalm 19 praises God first for revealing himself in his mighty acts of creation and providence (vv. 1-6) and then for the perfection of his law (vv. 7-11). When we enter his presence, overwhelmed by his majesty and power, how can we ignore what he is saying to us? So, in worship we hear the reading and exposition of the Scriptures (see Acts 15:21; 1 Tim. 4:13; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Acts 20:7; 2 Tim. 4:2). God wants us to be doers of that word, not hearers only (Rom. 2:13; James 1:22-25; 4:11).
And, in worship, we experience God’s presence. As the covenant Lord, he comes to us in worship to be with us. . . . The worshiper shouts with joy that God is in the midst of his people (Zeph. 3:17). . . . In New Testament worship, the presence of God may impress even a visiting unbeliever, so that “he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:25).
Therefore, true worship is saturated with reminders of God’s covenant lordship. We worship to honor his mighty acts, to hear his authoritative word, and to fellowship with him personally as the one who has made us his people. When we are distracted from our covenant Lord and preoccupied with our own comforts and pleasures, something has gone seriously wrong with our worship.